After Bayern Munich‘s 1-0 loss at the Vincente Calderon vs. Atletico Madrid, many fans and pundits questioned as to why coach Pep Guardiola kept Thomas Muller on the bench. His 32 goals in all competitions certainly could have made the case to start such a crucial game.
Pep however, wasn’t wrong with his selection.
He sought to solidify the center of park, using midfielders Thiago, Arturo Vidal, and Xabi Alonso to prevent Atletico Madrid from hitting on the counter-attack. Thomas Muller isn’t a box-to-box midfielder that contributes on the defensive side of the game.
Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman provided the trickery to breakdown a stingy Atletico defense. Muller does not have the guile to do that.
It took a great piece of skill from Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez to break the deadlock. It was all to play for at the Allianz Arena.
To overturn the scoreline, Guardiola resorted to the German international to erase the deficit, but was rather anonymous throughout the match.
Muller could not provide the skill necessary to breakdown a resolute Atletico defense, but his chance to increase their 1-0 lead came around the end of the first half. Muller was given a penalty after defender Jose Gimenez brought him down in the box after wrangling him during a corner kick, but his shot was saved by goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Muller only managed to create three chances for his side and completed 18 of 27 passes in the final third, with majority of his passes coming from an unthreatening area on the right side of the pitch towards the byline.
Simply put, Atletico Madrid had an answer to nullify Muller’s presence on the field.
Thomas Muller is a player that thrives on open space on the field, with his positioning giving him the opportunity to contribute to his side. Against Atletico Madrid, Muller was unable to find himself in positions that would be threatening for his team. Madrid stood resolute in their own defensive half, clogging vital passing lanes and limited space for Muller to influence the game.
Maybe Muller wasn’t the answer to Bayern’s problem?